Top NFL prospects to watch in college bowl games

Eddie Brown
San Diego Union-Tribune
Michigan linebacker Devin Bush

Welcome to bowl season!

Not only do these games operate as season finales for the college football season, it’s also an opportunity to check out the next crop of NFL prospects in one of their final tune-ups before next April’s draft in Nashville, Tenn.

Here are some of the best NFL prospects to watch.

Boca Raton Bowl 

Sutton Smith, DE, Northern Illinois, Sr.: This pass rush specialist recorded 15 sacks and a ridiculous 63 quarterback pressures despite constant double teams. He’ll likely switch to linebacker in the pros due to size (6-1, 237).

Frisco Bowl

Ryan Pope, OT, San Diego State, Sr.: NFL teams will be intrigued by Pope’s size (6-7, 315) and versatility (he has experience at both tackle positions).

Gasparilla Bowl

Mitchell Wilcox, TE, USF, Jr.: The explosive tight end could return for his senior season to improve his already decent draft stock (he’s currently a mid-round selection).

Bahamas Bowl

Brock Ruble, OT, Toledo, Sr.: This Florida State transfer has improved significantly since his days in Tallahassee. You can’t teach his size (6-8, 325).

Potato Bowl

John Keenoy, C, Western Michigan, Sr.: This undersized (6-3, 300) technician has anchored one of the best offensive lines in college football over the past four seasons.

Birmingham Bowl

Cameron Glenn, S, Wake Forest, Sr.: An athletic safety with good size (6-1, 200) and a productive college career needs a big performance in Birmingham to gain some buzz for the draft process.

Armed Forces Bowl

Romello Brooker, TE, Houston, Sr.: The Cougars have utilized Brooker all over the field. He’ll showcase his elite size (6-5, 253) and adequate athleticism at the combine.

Dollar General Bowl

Tyree Jackson, QB, Buffalo, Jr.: Jackson is a mammoth (6-7, 245) signal caller with a rocket arm who needs to work on his accuracy and footwork, but there’s a lot here for a competent coaching staff to work with.

Hawai’i Bowl

Jaylon Ferguson, DE, Louisiana Tech, Sr.: Prototypical size (6-5, 262), athleticism and elite production could catapult Ferguson into the first round. He is currently two sacks away from Terrell Suggs’ FBS career sack record of 44.

First Responder Bowl

Zach Allen, DE, Boston College, Sr.: Allen features an athletic size (6-5, 285)-speed combo defensive line coaches covet in the NFL. He had 55 QB pressures, 61/2 sacks and batted down nine passes in the regular season.

Quick Lane Bowl

Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota, Jr.: Johnson has essentially been the Gophers passing offense the past two seasons. He’s an explosive playmaker who needs to fine-tune his route-running.

Cheez-It Bowl

Ben Banogu, DE, TCU, Sr.: Banogu will likely fit best as a stand-up linebacker in a 3-4 scheme at the next level because of his blend of size (6-4, 249) and speed (he could potentially run 4.5 at the combine).

Independence Bowl

Daniel Jones, QB, Duke, Jr.: Jones has been inconsistent this season, but pro scouts love his arm talent, mobility and prototypical size (6-5, 220). He could sneak into the first round if he decides to leave early.

Pinstripe Bowl

Jaquan Johnson, S, Miami, Sr.: Johnson contributes equally in coverage and against the run. What he lacks in size (5-11, 190), he makes up for with elite football IQ and leadership skills.

Texas Bowl

Joejuan Williams, CB, Vanderbilt, Jr.: Elite size (6-3, 208) and a ballhawking skillset (four interceptions and 10 passes defensed) allowed Williams to hold his own against the SEC’s elite wide receivers.

Music City Bowl

Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn, Jr.: Brown features scheme versatility, elite size (6-5, 325) and the athleticism to impact the run game and passing attacks equally. All of this adds up to a potential first round pick.

Camping World Bowl

David Sills V, WR, West Virginia, Sr.: This former quarterback is a red-zone nightmare with elite ball skills (33 touchdowns the past two seasons).

Alamo Bowl

David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State, Jr.: Despite a mediocre offensive line, Montgomery has used his shifty run-style to average 4.7 yards per carry and score 23 touchdowns over the last two years. If he declares, he’s a top three running back.

Peach Bowl

Devin Bush, ILB, Michigan, Jr.: The junior All-American’s second-to-none instincts and playmaking ability set him apart. He’s a likely first-rounder.

Belk Bowl

Juan Thornhill, S, Virginia, Sr.: The versatile defensive back is capable of playing linebacker at the line of scrimmage, covering a slot receiver or roaming center field as a ballhawk. He had 92 tackles and five interceptions this season.

Arizona Bowl

Justice Hansen, QB, Arkansas State, Sr.: Hansen dominated the Sun Belt in yards (3,172), touchdowns (27) and completions (260) while having the most drops by his receivers. He has good size (6-4, 224), succeeds under pressure with an adjusted completion percentage of almost 68 percent and is highly capable of performing run-pass options.

Military Bowl

Yosuah Nijman, OT, Virginia Tech, Sr.: Hopefully Nijman will be medically cleared (he has missed the last two games). The Hokies offensive line has struggled significantly without the 6-foot-7 versatile tackle.

Sun Bowl

JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford, Sr.: Whiteside’s jump-ball skills are second-to-none (both parents played basketball professionally in Spain).

Redbox Bowl

Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon, Jr.: Herbert likely has the most to gain by leaving school early. Many believe this is a weak crop of quarterbacks and scouts have been drooling over a prototypical skill set since his freshman year.

Liberty Bowl

Drew Lock, QB, Missouri, Sr.: The experienced gunslinger (he has 49 college starts under his belt) has a strong arm and a playmaking skill set that mirrors Patrick Mahomes’ at this level.

Holiday Bowl

Clayton Thorson, QB, Northwestern, Sr.: There’s prototypical size (6-4, 226) and intangibles here, but there’s also still a lot to prove. His performance against a stout Ute defense and during the draft process will go along way in deciding where he goes.

Gator Bowl

Ryan Finley, QB, N.C. State, Sr.: Teams who pass on a quarterback in the first round will likely gravitate towards the “safe” choice in this class on day two. Finley has been prolific, features a pro-ready skillset and 45 collegiate starts to his name.

Outback Bowl

Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State, Jr.: Simmons is an elite run stopper who tends to overwhelm opposing linemen with his brute strength.

Citrus Bowl

Josh Allen, OLB, Kentucky, Sr.: Allen led the SEC in sacks (14) and tackles for loss (181/2) while cleaning up during award season. He has a shot at being a top-five selection.

Fiesta Bowl

Devin White, ILB, LSU, Jr.: There isn’t a place on the field White can’t get to. He’s a tackling machine and is capable of covering any running back out of the backfield.

Rose Bowl

Byron Murphy, CB, Washington, So.: Murphy is dynamic in man coverage, but also one of the best tackling corners I’ve witnessed. If he can make plays against the Buckeyes’ prolific passing game, there’s really no reason for him to return to Seattle.

Sugar Bowl

DeAndre Baker, CB, Georgia, Sr.: The Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back) winner is a shutdown corner in every sense of the word and will likely be chosen in the top half of the first round.

Cotton Bowl

Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame, Sr.: The 6-foot-7 Tillery has developed into one of the most dominating pass rushers in college football.

Orange Bowl

Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama, So.: Williams could be the best player in this draft if he declares.